Yesterday afternoon and evening we strolled through the town and today we packed in a lot of exploring and looking at art. So a little history to start. This city which is reduced to a very small historic district surrounded by a much larger city is a tourist destination for sure. Once again resolved never to travel in Europe in the summer. It’s crowded by manageable. The name of the town comes from the Viking word for wharf. From the start Bruges was an important trading center. In the 11th century it became wealthy based on it’s cloth trade. Lace and tapestry still abound though mostly in souvenir shops tucked in among the 600 Belgian Beer shops, chocolate shops, and every chain store from the US and other parts of Europe- it’s always a puzzle to me why you would leave home just to drop in on the H & M store in Bruges?!
By the 14th century the town’s population had grown to 35,000 as large as London at the time. Because of its location it was the middleman in the sea trade between Northern and Southern Europe. In the 15th century while England and France were killing each other in the Hundred Years’ War Bruges became a popular place to live for powerful French families. Needless to say commerce and art thrived. The artists Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck lived here.
But by the 16th century the harbor had silted up and the economy collapsed. The French went home, Belgium became part of the Habsburg empire and Bruges’ Golden Age came to an end. For many years it was considered a dead city. In the 19th century a new port revived the city and by the 20th century tourists discovered the town. It is a uniquely well preserved Gothic city and actually it’s not the worst place to be a tourist, especially if you stick to the side streets.